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Euphoric Recall.

29 June 2012

Ah what a miserable day. And it’s only 9:43 am. Yesterday I got a non-fundable grant score, though it was scored and not triaged. The score was even halfway decent, but they had some fatal flaws essentially relating to the mechanism. Which we were misled about. We were told that pre-implementation studies would be accepted. The reviewers complained that the study had no implementation aspect, and was a pre-implementation study. Idiots. Then I got a paper desk rejected, after a month again. I respect a desk reject. In fact, this one came with the editorial comment that it was an interesting paper, but framed inappropriately for their journal. But a month? Come on.

Nevermind. I’m going to write about sobriety again. Writing about my sobriety reminds me at these times that if I never publish another paper, if I never win another grant, I’m fine. I don’t need an academic career. I can do other things. I’m a good engineer, health care is burgeoning. There will be jobs of one type or another. And if not, I’ll go sell furniture for a living. I like salesmanship. I can live in this world, and do good in it, no matter where I am.

Today’s twitter question was asked by @celli_bean, which is an awesome name for a cellist. I’m working on writing a piece for cello for her to play, but I’m finding it extraordinarily difficult, because I’ve never really written for stringed instruments before. Not anything requiring complicated understanding of strings and bows, etc.. It’s a great intellectual exercise, and I need to practice what Andrea Kuszewski  calls “fetishizing the pain” of new thinking. If I love the difficulty and exhaustion, I can achieve something worthwhile.

@celli_bean asked me, “Is there ever any nostalgia, such as “although I’d never go back, there are things that I miss”?” This is a crucial question as well, and one which deserves a thorough and honest answer. Because dishonest answers to this question get alcoholics in trouble. They put alcoholics in graves. And the first thing to address is the middle part: ‘although I’d never go back’.

I have not promised never to drink again. I have not sworn off alcohol forever. I know that’s probably a strange thing to see for people who aren’t alcoholics in recovery. But it’s an important part of recovery. What I have done is decided, today, this morning when I got out of bed (implicitly, these days, it’s not a conscious effort), that I will not drink today. That’s all. As an alcoholic in recovery, the only thing about my consumption that I have decided is not to drink today. I can’t predict tomorrow.

But I can’t imagine drinking tomorrow. I can’t imagine wanting to drink tomorrow. I can’t imagine struggling about a drink tomorrow. But it would be foolish and dishonest of me to make lifelong sworn statements that I will never drink again. I don’t know. Any alcoholic who says they do is asking for trouble. When I hear someone say they’ll never drink again, big red flags snap warnings in semaphore at me. I haven’t had a drink in 1,595 todays. They were all tomorrow at one point. And day 1,596 is looking pretty good.

As for nostalgia, sure! There’s nostalgia. When I was 22, I drank apple wine and smoked hash on a soccer field at 2 am in Burgundy Brittany (ed – thanks Lawnboy…). It was awesome. There are dozens of memories about drinking that I enjoy. But there are hundreds, thousands, that I despise. That I’m ashamed of. That horrify me. And here’s the big thing: many of my memories of drinking are wonderful and fun, but I found out later that other people thought I was being a disgusting ass, when I thought I was being charming and funny. So, all of my drinking memories are tainted by the idea that when I drink, I don’t remember how it was accurately. I can’t trust my own mind.

In general, yes, alcoholics will often remember fondly our drinking exploits. We have a term for it: “euphoric recall”. In the beginning, it’s really dangerous. Because we don’t remember things as they actually were, often, we are able to deceive ourselves that we weren’t really that bad. That we were the elegant drinker at the upscale party, not the vicious, embarrassing and sloppy drunk whom everyone wanted to avoid.

But as time in sobriety goes on, that euphoric recall subsides. And I can see my drinking for what it was: the exhibition of the symptoms of a progressive, terminal, mental illness. The further I get from my active drinking, the more clearly I see what I was: a self-centered, self-righteous, angry, depressed alcoholic in a state of pure and criminal denial. There’s not much euphoria to be found when I look at myself honestly. Yes, I love the taste of a Pomerol with a steak. But that was about 0.5% of my drinking. And it never stopped there.

Nostalgia is fine. But we would all do better, I think, to recognize that memory isn’t perfect. I can’t reclaim the past. Attempts to do so are foolish and often destructive. And my present is so much better. My future looks bright. Even on days when I get poor grant scores and rejected manuscripts.

We alcoholics can predict the future, at least in some circumstances. I can safely predict that the day I drink is the day I lose everything I’ve worked for. I can predict that my world would contract back to a bathroom and a bottle of vodka. I can predict I would be unemployed and unemployable. But that day isn’t today. And I doubt it’ll be tomorrow. And as long as I keep my mind and heart centered, focused on my sobriety first, I needn’t fear those days returning. It is because alcohol is so terrifying to me that I am comfortable and confident without it.

I don’t understand how consciousness and time interact. I know that I exist in a perpetual present. The memories I have of everything are fallible and often confused and inaccurate. So I’ve learned to appreciate them as memories. And I don’t need to try to relive them. The person I was when I accrued those experiences no longer exists. The person I am is incapable of experiencing those things again. Memory is valuable to me in how it allows me to move forward and interact with my present more effectively. And for now, today, I feel like I’m doing that reasonably well.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 29 June 2012 22:52

    Sounds like you are doing well. I get the one day at a time thing. I don’t think I can promise much beyond this day.

  2. 30 June 2012 09:33

    Sorry about the grant and paper. It’s a game of numbers and persistence and attrition, unfortunately. It can be very depressing.

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